I forget where I first spotted Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror, but I do remember that I was completely captivated by the cover.
And I was delighted to discover that it was a gothic and a portmanteau book – two things I can never resist.
Edgar is a solitary child – his parents are distant and, because he has been sent away to school, he is not close to the neighbourhood children. As the story opens with young Edgar walking through the woods to visit his Uncle Montague. The author takes you along on that walk, and you never leave Edgar’s side, through everything that is to come.
Menace is so cleverly hinted at with very small details – a slow-moving kissing-gate, silent children lurking in overgrown woods, a cold and heavy garden gate …
Finally Edgar and Uncle Montague settle down for tea, cake and stories in Uncle Montague’s wonderfully gothic house. And what stories! Each one is simple, clear, and perfectly-formed. And they are strange tales, each with a child protagonist, and each escalating to a striking twist.
A boy enters the house of a woman he believes to be a witch and meets a most unexpected fate; a girl opens a forbidden door and is trapped in a dolls’ house; a boy chased off a cliff by a demonic version of himself; a girl granted three wishes who finds that those wishes have dark consequences…. It would be unfair to say too much.
Some of the stories are stronger than others but they all work. And, while each is distinctive, they come together well as a set.
But that’s not all. Edgar and Uncle Montague talk between stories, and their own story develops. Edgar begins to wonder. Is there is truth in the stories? Where have the artefacts that Uncle Montague shows him come from? And who are the strange children trying to gain access to the house?
All becomes clear in the astonishing final story – Uncle Montague’s own.
Everything comes togethere just perfectly.
Tribute is paid to many great writers of ghost stories and the volume itself is a lovely little hardback, beautifully illustrated by David Roberts.
Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror is a chilren’s book but it makes wonderful reading for adults too – and it would be lovely for parents or grandparents to read to children with a love of scary things.